James 'Illkeys' Illingworth is a New Zealand pianist and composer known for his emotive improvisational and often raucous performances on pianos, synths and keyboards.
Hailing from the small seaside city of Whangarei, James studied classical piano from an early age and it became apparent he would pursue a career in music.
A decision to relocate and study in Wellington saw James graduate with a BMus in Jazz Performance from the Wellington Conservatorium of Music and he has gone on to work with many artists and musicians, both in NZ and abroad, including Hollie Smith, Iva Lamkum, The Recloose Live Band, Rio Hemopo, Trinity Roots, Kirsten Te Rito, WAI, Rob Ruha and Australian hip hop trio Bliss n Eso.
A skillful jazz pianist, James’ improvisations are featured on the latest Trinity Roots album Citizen where his McCoy Tyner-esque licks flavour the title track. He can also be heard on the album Mantis - The Music of Drew Menzies, with arrangements by well-known composer John Psathas, which also features Reuben Bradley, Matt Penman, Roger Manins and the New Zealand String Quartet. Although he has played many styles of music over the years his musical inclination has always been angled towards the jazz idiom. From composition to performance and improv, the jazz realm is where James’ talents as a pianist truly shine.
Not limited to jazz music, James plays and records for one of Australia’s most popular hip hop bands, Bliss n Eso. He has also toured and played major festivals with the band for the past 8 years and can be heard on their albums Circus in the Sky and Off The Grid that both debuted at #1 on the ARIA charts. Circus in the Sky went Platinum with over 70,000 copies sold in Australia alone. Gaining the opening spot for Ed Sheeran’s four Melbourne shows in 2018 has been a highlight with the band.
James has also composed and produced music alongside his wife and singer Kirsten Te Rito for her eclectic Māori language albums Te Rito and Āiotanga, both made with support from Te Māngai Pāho. Both albums were nominated for Best Māori Album at the NZ Music Awards and their track Tamaiti Ngaro was a finalist for the Maioha Silver Scroll Award in 2016.
James performed in the visual, cinematic, live performance masterpiece No Man’s Land by acclaimed composer John Psathas commemorating World War 1 as part of the New Zealand Festival of the Arts and Womad New Zealand. There are plans to tour the show internationally in 2020.
Currently James is working on several projects: a solo jazz piano recording comprising of original compositions, improvisations and pre-conceptualized interludes - which he plans to tour in the coming year. Also, a five track Māori language EP, and an electronic music project with his wife vocal artist Kirsten Te Rito.
“… he has plenty of good to say and so many good ways to show how he can say it” - Simon Sweetman, Off The Tracks
“… I hesitate to single out one member but James Illingworth’s piano simply stole the show” - Colin Morris, Dominion Post
“… Mesmerizing dexterity, showmanship and aplomb” - Colin Morris, Dominion Post
“… outstanding piano work” - Simon Sweetman, Dominion Post
“… pianist James Illingworth stands out on the title track” - Gary Steel, Metro magazine
"... jazz pianist James Illingworth runs virtuosic rings around a slow skanking groove." - Nick Bollinger, Listener / Noted
“James Illingworth adds Toussaint like touches” - Kristin Nielsen, New Zealand Herald
“…an amazing piano performance” - Loukas Mexis, Colosoul Magazine (AU)
“…beautiful grand piano solo” - Jasmine Amis, Colosoul Magazine (AU)
“…it’s the live piano work of James Illingworth that steals the night” - Benny Doyle, Time Off Magazine (AU)